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Murray Journal

Murray’s County Council Reps. Snelgrove, Stringham and Winder Newton vote to overturn K-6 mask mandate

Aug 25, 2021 11:49AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Except for County Councilwoman Ann Granato, all of Murray’s county councilmembers voted to overturn a mask mandate for K-6 students issued by Salt Lake County Health Director Dr. Angela Dunn. The Aug. 12 vote split along party lines, with six Republicans voting to overturn the mandate, while three Democrats voted to uphold it.

The Utah State Legislature changed state law to ban mask mandates during the last legislative session, with one provision. A county health department executive can issue a new emergency health declaration, like a mask mandate, if local elected officials, like the mayor and county council, are supportive. However, the state legislature would still have the authority to overturn that declaration. 

Newly appointed County Health Director Dr. Dunn issued the mandate to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus Delta variant in elementary schools. Cases have risen to significant levels, and children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

Councilwoman Amy Winder Newton, whose district covers the majority of Murray, posted on social media, “When we are in the business of public health, data-driven decisions are key. We know children under 12 have very low risk with COVID. Though the Delta variant is more contagious, and more children will likely get it, the risks of COVID complications are still incredibly low for children under 12.” 

At-large Councilwoman Laurie Stringham, who covers all of Murray, posted on Twitter, along with a graphic from the CDC, “We have 235,000 kids under 12 in Salt Lake County. Of those, 11,500 (5%) have had confirmed COVID cases, 58 children have been hospitalized (0.5% of those with COVID). Current modeling shows up to 50 hospitalized by year-end with the new variants. Less than the flu/pneumonia in the US. I truly want to do what is best for our children. I am looking at the science and numbers right now, should those numbers or the modeling change, I will absolutely reconsider my position.”

According to Dunn, the main reason behind the mandate was to limit the forecasted number of students who will come down with the Delta variant. While students may not show up in the hospitals, contracting the virus or being exposed to it will require time away from classes. In addition, COVID-positive students can also be a risk to those who have not been vaccinated.

Dunn said, “It is in the best public health interest, and the interest of our students for them to be in masks in the fall, to keep them in in-person learning with the least disruption possible, and the least health concerns possible.”

Murray resident and at-large Councilman Richard Snelgrove provided a different rationale in a prepared press release. “In considering whether or not to support the mask mandate I must also weigh other factors such as the psychological harm to children in part from their reaction to mask wearing this collateral damage from mask wearing and the lockdown has contributed to learning deficiencies, increased anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Sadly, a 72% increase in visits by children to behavioral health emergency rooms has been reported. And, worst of all, we have seen a sharp increase in children’s suicides since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Snelgrove did not provide where he got his data from. However, the Utah Department of Health reported in April that suicides for all ages were on the same level as in previous years. 

“This has been the most difficult decision I have ever made in my seven years as a county councilwoman,” Winder Newton said. “It’s difficult because there are passionate parents on both sides who deeply love their children and want what’s best. It’s difficult because, although we have smart, incredible health officials, there are so many unknowns. Even they admit they don’t know everything about the virus and masking effects. It’s difficult because none of us has a crystal ball to see how our decisions today impact the future.”

On Aug. 13, Murray School District seventh-graders returned to classes. The district reported about 50% were wearing masks. At the same time, Murray’s Intermountain Medical Center announced that their ICUs were 102% full, mainly with unvaccinated COVID patients.